Americana, pop culture and machismo, all propelled by a rock ‘n’ roll beat, collide explosively in Sam Shepard’s The Tooth of Crime, which, in a stunning remounting of George Ferencz’s 1983 staging, is opening La MaMa’s 45th season.
In a futuristic world best described as a Damon Runyon–esque gangland overseen by an Orwellian corporate conglomerate that monopolizes the music industry, rock star Hoss (the original’s Ray Wise) must face the fact that it is now time for rising star Crow (the electrifyingly intense newcomer Nick Denning) to take center stage. When these two men square off, it is a battle of titans.
In Tooth Shepard deftly blends the patois of the Beat generation with the slang of drug culture and, with the arrival of Crow, the rhythms of early electronica. Even as he creates this new argot, Shepard invokes and shatters images of the picture-perfect ’50s and the heroic Southwest, showing that even Hoss’s beloved r&b is tainted with the lingering effects of slavery. Ferencz’s staging echoes Shepard’s mélange, uniting rock concert with Greek tragedy: Hoss’s inexorable fall from stardom is punctuated with bursts of Shepard’s original rock tunes. Tooth is thrilling theater that engages intellectually, emotionally, and viscerally.